Math Adds Up, But Will Injuries Derail AZ?
Larry Fitzgerald & Nate Clements (Getty)
Larry Fitzgerald & Nate Clements (Getty)

Posted Dec 17, 2009


The Arizona Cardinals don't fear an end of the season slump. The loss to San Francisco hasn't kept them up at night. With another chance to clinch the NFC West in plain sight, the math is on their side. Clinching this weekend is imperative as the team is looking pretty beat up.

The Cardinals failed to clinch the NFC West last Monday in San Francisco, but it's not keeping them up nights.

They remain two games ahead of the 49ers with three remaining. The Cardinals could clinch this week by beating the Lions and if the 49ers lose at Philadelphia.

"Last time I did the math, if we win two more it doesn't really matter what else happens, right?" said coach Ken Whisenhunt. "If we take care of what's in front of us, then it doesn't make a difference."

The Cardinals would benefit from clinching this weekend, because it would give them a chance to rest some players.

Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has a bone contusion and sprained ligament in his right knee. He will be evaluated as the week progresses, but it would make sense for the Cardinals to get him as much rest as possible before the post-season.

Kicker Neil Rackers is expected to miss at least a week with a groin pull. Rackers has been struggling with the injury for weeks and finally had to shut it down. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has a slight case of turf toe, and quarterback Kurt Warner has suffered a concussion and a hip pointer in recent weeks.

The Cardinals finish the season at home against the Rams and Packers. With consecutive games against the Lions and Rams, clinching the division title shouldn't be hard.

That could leave Whisenhunt with the decision to make in the final week, whether to rest his starters or to play them against the Packers.

Chances are, Whisenhunt will be cautious, especially with older veterans such as Warner.

SERIES HISTORY: 60th regular-season meeting. Lions lead 31-23-5. The Cardinals have won the last two. This will be the teams' 10th meeting in the last 12 years, an indication that both usually occupied the same place in their division's standing -- near the bottom. The teams were two of the most futile in the NFL for years, but the Cardinals have pulled out of it, advancing to a Super Bowl last season for the first time.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn't show much emotion on the sidelines during a game, but that doesn't mean he's not churning inside. He did a good job of hiding his disgust during last week's loss to the 49ers.

"Well, I'm disgusted," he said. "There was no question I was disgusted."

--After their victory, the 49ers talked about how they were tougher than the Cardinals. "One of the benefits of winning the game is you get to say those things," Whisenhunt said. "Our record's been better than theirs. We've played essentially the same teams. I think if you look at the Minnesota game, or any of the other games you want to put up there, it doesn't appear to me to be the case."

--With a victory in Detroit, Ken Whisenhunt would have 29 wins as the Cardinals coach. That would tie Vince Tobin for the fourth most in franchise history. Don Coryell (42), Jim Hanifan (39) and Charley Winner (35) are the top three.

--The Cardinals averaged 64.9 rushing yards in the first seven games and 126.6 in the last six. The yards per attempt has improved from 3.3 to 4.9.

--The Cardinals signed kicker Mike Nugent as a temporary replacement for Neil Rackers, who has a pulled groin. Nugent was cut by Tampa Bay this year after missing four field goals in four games.

--The Cardinals thought they were past performing as poorly as they did last week against the 49ers. "It's disappointing," Whisenhunt said, "but more so for our fans and the people who have supported us. It's tough enough for our football team. And it's tough because it's a division opponent that beat us twice this year. That burns in your gut."

BY THE NUMBERS: 34 -- That's the number of years that have passed since the Cardinals last won consecutive division titles. They did it in 1974-75 under coach Don Coryell.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Running back Tim Hightower has fumbled four times in the first quarter this season. Hightower needs to learn to put the ball away at the end of runs. Running back Beanie Wells seemed ready to take over the featured back role last week in San Francisco. But Wells fumbled deep in 49ers territory late and might have blown his chance to move past Hightower.

The Cardinals will miss Matt Ware on special teams. Ware is out with a knee injury. A safety, Ware is an excellent cover man on special teams.

PLAYER NOTES

--S Rashad Johnson should move into the team's dime package, replacing Matt Ware, who is injured. Johnson, a rookie, has been slow to develop and hasn't played much. The Cardinals might not run their dime package as much with Ware out. Johnson was a ball hawk in college at Alabama but has yet to show those skills in the NFL.

--LT Mike Gandy is struggling through a pelvic muscle injury and obviously isn't 100 percent. Gandy has trouble with speed rushers when he's healthy. With the post-season looming the Cardinals could choose to rest him and play Jeremy Bridges.

--DE Calais Campbell started the season fast but his production has tapered in recent weeks. Campbell needs to develop his pass-rushing skills but he's only in his second year. He should develop into a solid player.

--CB Michael Adams has replaced Ralph Brown as the nickel cornerback. Adams has filled that role the last two games, relegating Brown to a lesser role. Adams is a solid tackler and is quicker and faster than Brown.

--K Mike Nugent signed this week to temporarily replace Neil Rackers, who is out with a groin injury. Nugent was with Tampa Bay this season but was cut early in the four after missing four of six field goals. Nugent and Cardinals long snapper Ben Graham played together with the Jets, a factor in the team's decision to sign him.



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